People of the Attractions: Brian Knoebel Gets a Kick Out of His Family’s Park
As a child in the 1980s, Brian Knoebel and his cousins played kickball in the middle of Knoebels Amusement Resort, the Pennsylvania amusement park that his family has owned and operated since 1926. His house was nearby, and the midway was his backyard.
“We barely had to stop to let guests pass,” says Knoebel, recalling the park’s relatively light attendance. However, the transplanted wooden coaster Phoenix opened in 1985 and hordes of eager visitors soon followed. “That was the end of our kickball games,” he says with a laugh.
Knoebel’s memories go back even further. He recalls running a fishing game at the age of eight. Although he doesn’t remember it, he’s been told that he delighted in handing out ice cream novelties at the park’s company picnics when he was about four years old. With hindsight, it wasn’t a typical upbringing, although it was all perfectly normal to him as a youngster.
Now, as one of the park’s co-owners and co-managers, roles that Knoebel shares with other family members, he understands and appreciates the rare gift that he has been given.
“There’s something magical about Knoebels,” he notes about the open gate, traditional amusement park. “The smiles and the memories that my family provides, you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Perhaps subconsciously, his early ice cream gig may have led Knoebel to pursue a degree in food and hospitality management. He subsequently dove into the park’s food services department but felt a greater need to work alongside his father, IAAPA Hall of Fame inductee, Richard “Dick” Knoebel.
“He had the weight of the world on his shoulders,” Brian says about the legendary park operator who, at the age of 84, still serves as the park’s president. “For Knoebels to succeed, I have to extract his knowledge. If I can do half of what he’s achieved, I’ll have a successful career.”
Brian also credits his hardworking mother, the late Barbara Knoebel, for instilling a sense of dedication to and joy about the family business. “I think she loved the industry more, at times, than my dad. And he eats, breathes, and sleeps this industry,” says Brian.
Among the ways the fourth generation Knoebel gives back to the industry is by volunteering on IAAPA committees. He also facilitates EDUSessions at IAAPA Expo, including the annual Family Matters presentation. Knoebel says the session is a great way to commiserate with other families that operate parks and learn from one another.
I have a soft spot for family-owned parks and the families that own them. They take exceptional pride in what they do and are beacons to generations of fans whose own families hold dear their times at the beloved places and who count on folks like the Knoebels to carry on the rich tradition.
Brian Knoebel exemplifies this special breed. He takes the long hours and sometimes grueling work in stride and embraces the legacy he has inherited, saying, “I’m as passionate as ever about Knoebels and our industry.”